August 8, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Float for the Flow

Aug 11, 2010

August 8, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Float for the Flow

Squinting into the sun Saturday morning, Ken Bicart surveyed the flotilla of inflatable crafts edging into the current of the Deschutes River at Riverbend Park, and tried to get a little betting action going.

What are the odds his wife’s cheap inflatable ring — bought the night before at a grocery store — would run out of air and sink before she reached the Columbia Street Bridge?

Bicart, 37, of Prineville, grinned and said he was willing to take any bets anyone was ready to make.

“Absolutely, I have no confidence in her whatsoever,” he laughed.

Barely 15 minutes later, Pam Bicart climbed out of the water near the Les Schwab Amphitheater, vindicated, still mostly dry, and fast enough for 20th place in the “floatie” division of the first-ever Race for the River.

“It was great, I want to do it again next year,” said Pam, 44.

A benefit for the Deschutes River Conservancy, the race drew a couple hundred competitors, each of whom paid $15 to race as swimmers, in kayaks, rafts and canoes, or on stand-up paddleboards and air mattresses. Competitors paid an extra $5 a head to take their dogs along for the ride, and received a free dog-sized life jacket from Bend-based Ruff Wear.

Zach Tillman, of the Deschutes River Conservancy, said proceeds from the event will go toward the nonprofit’s primary mission of restoring streamflows in the Deschutes.

The combination of dams on the Deschutes and canals drawing water from the river have drastically altered the natural flow patterns, Tillman said, particularly in the area between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook. More than 90 percent of the water that would naturally flow through this portion of the river is diverted each summer for irrigation, he said, but the Deschutes River Conservancy has been working to bring back some of this water, by acquiring water rights and piping existing canals.

The efforts have been paying off. In the Middle Deschutes, flows are now at around 170 cubic feet per second, up from the 30 cubic feet per second before restoration efforts began, but still well below the 3,000 cubic feet per second seen in the pre-irrigation era.

For competitors on the river Saturday, the talk was less about streamflows and cubic feet per second, and more about the proper role of a dog in a successful river float.

Dakota, a 2-year-old boxer/shepherd/ridgeback mix, was going along as a passenger, according to owner Ramona Bieber.

“I will be dog paddling, and she will be riding,” said Bieber, 45, of Bend. “She doesn’t swim.”

Kevin Jones, 40, of Bend, said he and his dog, Kanaloa, had developed a system for days on the river. Lounging in a tiny child’s raft, Jones called out to Kanaloa. He seized the handgrip on the back of his life jacket when he came near. Kanaloa kicked furiously, slowly dragging Jones and the raft toward the middle of the river.

“He’s the power behind the boat,” Jones said. “I just kind of hold on to the handle and use him like a little motor, like a little outboard.”

Bea Armstrong, director of development and communications for the Deschutes River Conservancy, said she was impressed at the turnout for a first-time event, and looking forward to something bigger and better next year.

“It’s been fantastic. It’s been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “We’re just really encouraged by how many people have come out to celebrate the river.”

Scott Hammers can be reached at 541-383-0387 or at shammers@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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